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'PV': A scholar, a statesman

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 23, 2004 16:54 IST
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Former primie minister P V Narasimha RaoA statesman, scholar and a polyglot, Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao will be remembered for several firsts to his credit during an eventful five years as prime minister in the last decade that saw India take a new economic path, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the rise of the saffron forces.

A hardcore Congressman, Rao, who died on Thursday at the age of 83, was the first prime minister from southern India and the first from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to complete a full five-year term, and also dubiously the first to face criminal charges and accusations in and out of the top office.

However, before his death he was cleared in all the three cases he faced trial for: the relief in the last Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case coming just a few months ago.

Former PM Narasimha Rao is dead

Born in an agrarian family in Vangara village of Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh on June 28, 1921, Rao took over the reins of the Congress after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991 and became prime minister after the staggered Lok Sabha elections in June.

PV, as he was popularly known, would be remembered for initiating far-reaching economic changes which turned Nehru's public sector penchant upside down.

Educated at Osmania, Bombay and Nagpur Universities from where he took his BSc and LLB degrees, Rao's political baptism began in 1938 during the protest against the Nizam government's ban on singing 'Vande Mataram' in his college.

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Rao, a widower, leaves behind three sons and five daughters.

A staunch and trusted loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Rao had the rare distinction of holding important non-economic portfolios at the Centre -- External Affairs, Defence and Home -- at different times in the 1980s.

Rao, whose famous pout was a cartoonists' delight, did not contest the 1991 elections and had virtually wound up his establishment here reconciling to political retirement.

But fate willed otherwise.

After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, he became the consensus candidate for the Congress president's post that put him in the prime minister's seat after the elections.

He headed a minority government for sometime and later acquired a majority strength in the Lok Sabha under controversial circumstances which his detractors said was acquired through dubious means.

After he relinquished power in 1996, he went through a difficult period facing trials in the infamous Jharkhand Mukti March MPs' bribery case and Lakhubhai Pathak case.

While the lower court convicted him in the bribery case, the Delhi High Court exonerated him later. He was also discharged in the St Kitts forgery case.

One who earned the soubriquet 'Chanakya' for his manoeuvering skills, he also came under attack from his own party colleagues and opposition leaders when his government pursued the 'hawala' scam in which they were implicated. The scandal, however, finally met a judicial death.

If Rao has left a legacy as prime minister, it is of LPG (liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation) and economic reforms under the then finance minister Manmohan Singh as the duo pulled the country from the economic brink it was facing at the height of a severe foreign exchange crisis.

One black spot of his rule was the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya in December 1992 and nationwide communal riots that followed.

He was Union Home Minister when riots erupted after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and even then he was blamed for 'criminal inaction.'

In 1993, a year after the securities scam, Big Bull Harshad Mehta created a sensation when he alleged to have handed over to him a suitcase with Rs 1 crore at his residence. It took a while for Rao to come out of the political crisis that the muck had left behind.

Not many expected him to remain prime minister for long, some even called him the 'stop-gap' premier given his age, ailing health and lack of charisma and grassroots support.

Yet, confounding political pundits, the 'meek inheritor' soon emerged as a 'power player' and he was in splits watching one party split after another including Telugu Desam, Shiv Sena and Janata Dal.

But one scam after another made his government highly unpopular, culminating in defeat of the Congress in the May 1996 Lok Sabha polls. In September, Rao quit the post of the party President. After being chargesheeted in St Kitts forgery and JMM bribery case, he also gave up the CPP leadership.

Rao was the first prime minister to have faced criminal charges but he relentlessly fought all the cases. After Sonia Gandhi took over the party reins he did not contest Lok Sabha polls.

Rao was back to what he did best -- writing -- and came out with an over 700-page semi-autobiographical tone, The Insider, released by his arch political rival but close friend and another former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

His true gift lay in putting across party ideology, and he played a key role in drafting the political, economic and foreign policy resolutions for the AICC session at Kamagatur Nagar in Chandigarh.

After emergency was lifted, he was one of the few prominent Congressmen who withstood the Janata wave and entered the Lok Sabha from Hanamkonda in 1977.

Politics, however, was just one of the many interests of this multi-faceted personality. A Sahitya Ratan in Hindi, Rao was fluent in several languages, including Spanish.

Taking a cue from the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Rao was over 60 years old when he became a computer addict spending hours on his word processors when most politicians were not computer literate.

The word processors came in handy to draft the New Education Policy when he was asked to head the newly created human resource development ministry in 1986. The Navodaya Vidyalaya scheme was his brainchild.

Later as prime minister, 'the consensus man' implemented V P Singh's pet project, the Mandal Commission report.

Rao's prime ministership also marked an upswing in Indo-US relations after a summit meeting with the then American President Bill Clinton in Washington in 1994.

A science and law graduate from Nagpur University, Rao later lectured at the universities in the United States and Germany. He always had a way with words.

A day before he was sworn in as prime minister, he said, "As an individual, I feel overwhelmed, utterly humble. But as representative of a great party, I feel like a colossus."

Known for his conciliatory manner and ideological firmness, Rao always held his own in any discussion without threatening anybody, making him a successful external affairs minister in Indira and Rajiv cabinets. His multi-lingual skills always came in handy.

After the 1992 Ayodhya demolition, he pacified Muslim clerics in chaste Urdu. Later, he was quoting slokas from the Bhagwad Gita while addressing the IAS probationers at his residence.

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